Embracing diversity

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The raid at George's processing plant in Butterfield captured headlines, because it re-enforced an existing problem our nation is currently struggling to address. That problem centers on the issue of illegal aliens, a secure border and creation of an immigration policy to deal with it. It has become crystal clear that the United States' existing immigration policy is failing. There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. right now. Some want the U.S. to build a bigger and better fence along the southern border and increase law enforcement presence at that border to keep people out. This plan also involves rounding up the illegals and sending them home, similar to the effort that was initiated right here in Barry County two weeks ago.

A more recent compromise reached in Washington would create a way for those who are already in the U.S. illegally to stay if they pay a fine and then adhere to guidelines for obtaining citizenship. As with any collaboration, this proposal appears more reasonable but it has angered extremists on both sides of the political fence.

This week, we are not prepared to offer our opinion on U.S. immigration policy. We are still reading up on the issue and find it to be a dilemma with few easy answers. Instead, this week, we want to address what happened at George's and how we should respond.

With over 100 employees detained by agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on May 22, it would be easy to jump to conclusions about the Hispanics who live and work in Barry County and the companies that employ them. It would be ignorant to conclude that all Hispanics are here illegally and that companies go out looking to hire illegals. Both these assumptions are false.

It's important that Barry County residents realize that most Hispanics are here legally and they help provide local industries with the workers they need so these companies remain here in the county. I have heard people say that these individuals take jobs away from "white" workers. If this is true, where are those "white" workers hiding? Hispanics and people of other nationalities moved to Barry County because jobs were available. In fact, we believe many of these hard working individuals are doing jobs that "white" workers think are too physically tasking or beneath them. Instead, these "white" workers would rather accept unemployment than work at a chicken plant or pick tomatoes or slop hogs.

I, for one, am pleased to see Barry County and its communities becoming more diverse. When I moved here from the St. Louis area 20 years ago, the lack of diversity I found here was a real negative for me. I did not want my children to grow up without knowing people of different races, nationalities and cultures. Over the years, I have watched the Hispanic population grow in this area and now I am witnessing the emergence of a strong Hmong population. It's a beautiful thing that large Hispanic festivals are held in the Monett area and Wheaton plays host to a Hmong cultural and educational celebration each year. All of these events serve to bring people together and help educate the locals to new customs and cultures.

Many of you know that I am a huge soccer fan. I love the sport and I was thrilled when the Cassville R-IV School Board allowed soccer to be offered as a high school sport six years ago. One of the things that I believe is most appealing about the sport is what many criticize. It's an international sport and the world's most popular game. At Cassville, it is the one sport that attracts Hispanic students. There is no tension between players and a strong bond has been established between two different cultures of students. This fall, when one of the Hispanic players was assaulted at school by a student bigot, the entire soccer team rallied around this young man and sent a strong message to the entire student body that racism and violence were wrong and would not be tolerated.

Soccer is one of the ways that I have come to know some of our Hispanic community members. The students and families I know are wonderful hardworking people who share the same values that attracted many of us to a rural community in southwest Missouri. These individuals love their families and want a better life for their children. And for many of them, America still symbolizes opportunity and freedom.

I want this country to remain a melting pot and a refuge for the poor and disadvantaged. We have been blessed with much, and therefore, much is expected of us. Let's not isolate ourselves from the world and become a country that keeps people out rather than welcomes them in. And let's all educate ourselves about our neighbors and make sure Barry County embraces different cultures and steers clear of any tendency to turn to racist thinking.